Computing

Is the Surface Book 2 a Worthy Successor to the Original?

Surface Book 2

Microsoft launched the Surface Book in October 2015, expanding its 2-in-1 lineup with a unique clamshell notebook that could detach its display to be used as a tablet. A year later, the Surface Book received a minor update in the form of the Performance Base, which added a slightly more powerful GPU and increased battery capacity. However, this upgrade left Microsoft fans wanting more. Now, Microsoft has unveiled the Surface Book 2, set to be released on November 16, 2017. So, how does the Surface Book 2 compare to its predecessor? Let’s find out.

Design

The Surface Book 2 doesn’t stray far from the design of the Performance Base version. It retains the same silver-grey magnesium chassis with its distinctive fulcrum hinge and the gap between the display and the keyboard. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that the keyboard is now flush with the deck, unlike the slightly inset keyboard of the older version. From an aesthetic perspective, the iconic Surface Book design remains largely intact.

In terms of engineering, Microsoft made a few changes to the new version. The most significant change is the stiffer hinge design, which provides better support for the 15-inch display when used in a lap. Although it may seem like a minor modification, this addresses a major concern for owners of the older versions. So far, Microsoft seems to have succeeded in resolving this issue.

Additionally, the 13.5-inch version’s tablet portion is now completely fanless, regardless of the CPU installed. This is a significant improvement. While the 15-inch version doesn’t enjoy the same fanless feature, the cooling system has been generally enhanced, resulting in quieter performance. Overall, the Surface Book 2 rectifies one of the few design flaws of its predecessor and offers quieter operation in the smaller version. Therefore, it deserves to win in this category.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Surface Book 2 vs. Surface Book

Performance

The Surface Book with Performance Base was equipped with sixth-generation Intel Core processors and an Nvidia 965M GPU. This configuration placed it at least a generation behind in terms of CPU power, and the GPU power wasn’t significantly improved compared to the original Surface Book. It performed decently but fell a little short given its high price tag.

The Surface Book 2, however, changes the game. Both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch models now come with eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8650U processors, with the 13.5-inch lowest-end configuration offering a seventh-generation Core i5-7300 option. Unless you select the entry-level model, you are guaranteed to have the fastest 15-watt processor available today. Our testing of other eighth-generation machines suggests that you would enjoy most of the performance advantages of quad-core processors, coupled with significantly improved efficiency compared to the seventh-generation CPUs.

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Moreover, the 13.5-inch model (excluding the low-end configuration) features the fast Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU, making it a decent entry-level gaming system and providing good performance in advanced productivity tasks like video editing. The 15-inch model takes it a step further with the GTX 1060, promising real performance for all but the most demanding mobile gamers, and even better performance for high-end applications like AutoCAD.

Clearly, the Surface Book 2 significantly improves upon the performance of its older models, placing it in an entirely different class. This is the kind of power increase that fans have been eagerly anticipating, and Microsoft has delivered.

Winner: Surface Book 2 by a mile

Is the Surface Book 2 a worthy sequel to the original? Here’s how it compares

Keyboard, Mouse, and Pen

Based on our limited hands-on experience with the Surface Book 2, we don’t expect any major differences in the keyboard compared to the previous models. It is similar, slightly improved, offering slightly deeper travel at 1.55mm, with a feel that seems to have been borrowed from the Surface Laptop. Therefore, it remains one of the best keyboards on the market. The touchpad was already excellent in the older models and is likely to remain just as good in the new version.

Where the Surface Book 2 truly stands apart from its predecessors is in Surface Pen support. The new version fully supports the latest Surface Pen, which was first introduced with the 2017 Surface Pro. This updated pen offers increased pressure sensitivity to 4,096 levels, significantly improved latency, and tilt support. Additionally, the Surface Book 2 also supports the out-of-the-box use of the Surface Dial on the display, and the 15-inch model provides even more space to take advantage of this incredible peripheral.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Connectivity

One major complaint about the Surface Book has been its limited built-in connectivity. The machine came with two USB-A 3.0 ports, a mini-DisplayPort, a Surface Connect port, an SD card reader, and a 3.5mm combo jack. In a world where USB-C is becoming increasingly important, this connectivity suite was rather restrictive.

With the Surface Book 2, Microsoft has slightly upgraded the connectivity options. Specifically, the mini-DisplayPort has been replaced by a USB-C 3.1 connection. Everything else remains the same, including the two USB-A 3.0 ports, the Surface Connect port, the SD card reader, and the 3.5mm combo jack. While it still lacks Thunderbolt 3 support, this improvement is welcome and offers some relief for users who require more advanced connectivity options.

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Winner: Surface Book 2

Is the Surface Book 2 a worthy sequel to the original? Here’s how it compares

Display

The original Surface Book models featured excellent, high-resolution 13.5-inch displays with a productivity-friendly 3:2 aspect ratio, which is slightly taller than the standard 16:9 widescreen displays. The resolution was impressive at 3,000 x 2,000 (267 PPI), the contrast ratio was class-leading at over 1400:1, and brightness levels were excellent. However, the color accuracy fell short in terms of covering the AdobeRGB gamut.

Microsoft promises that the Surface Book 2 display will be even better. They boast a 1700:1 contrast ratio and more dynamic colors. If the display truly improves upon the original, it will be a significant achievement. The resolution for the 13.5-inch model remains the same, while the 15-inch model offers a 3,240 x 2,160 (260 PPI) resolution. Although it’s not quite 4K, it is still a seriously high-resolution display that should provide sharp text and images.

While we need to see if Microsoft lives up to its promise of an even better display, on paper, the Surface Book 2 wins this category, albeit by a slim margin.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Portability and Battery Life

The Surface Book with Performance Base improved upon the original model’s battery capacity, increasing it from 52 watt-hours to 60 watt-hours, distributed between the tablet portion and the base. This enhancement provided some of the best battery life seen in a notebook. However, the tablet alone could only last around three hours when disconnected from the base.

The Surface Book 2 takes battery life a step further. It now boasts 70 watt-hours in the 13.5-inch model and 90 watt-hours in the 15-inch model. Microsoft estimates a total battery life of 17 hours for both sizes, surpassing its previous estimate of 16 hours for the older version. The tablet alone can now last up to five hours. With the added battery capacity and more efficient eighth-generation CPUs, users can expect improved longevity, especially for general productivity tasks. However, intense GPU usage will still affect battery life.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Availability and Price

As is typical with Microsoft’s Surface products, the Surface Book 2 is positioned in the high-end market, especially for higher configurations. The Surface Book with Performance Base started at $2,400 for a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD). It reached a staggering $3,300 with a bump to 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.

The Surface Book 2 slightly adjusts this pricing but not by much. The 13.5-inch version starts at $1,500 for the Core i5 model with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a discrete Intel UHD 620 GPU. Opting for the Core i7 and GTX 1050 increases the price to $2,000 for 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, and $3,000 for a remarkable 16GB of RAM and 1TB SSD. The 15-inch model is naturally more expensive, starting at $2,500 for a Core i7, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, and reaching $3,300 for 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.

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The 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 is actually slightly less expensive than its predecessor, offering better value for your money (we’ll discuss the value in a moment). The 15-inch Surface Book 2 is in its own category with higher pricing, but it offers a lot more in terms of performance. Regardless, the original Surface Book and Surface Book with Performance Base are no longer officially available, making the Surface Book 2 the only option when it launches on November 16, 2017.

Winner: Surface Book 2

Overall Winner: Surface Book 2

It’s no surprise that the Surface Book 2 emerges as the winner of this comparison. The real question was whether the Surface Book 2 would be another minor update or a worthy successor. Given the significant increase in performance, particularly with its class-leading GPU selection, and the other notable improvements, the Surface Book 2 has undoubtedly earned the title of more than just a simple refresh. In fact, it’s the first Surface Book that comes close to justifying its high price.

Few machines on the market offer such a compelling combination of innovative and flexible design, raw processing and graphics power, and long battery life. This is especially true for the 15-inch model, which is arguably the most compelling machine equipped with a GTX 1060. How many other gaming-capable notebooks can boast such incredible battery life, even during simple productivity tasks?

That being said, the Surface Book 2 is still an expensive machine, and its design may not appeal to everyone. However, this time around, Microsoft has come much closer to justifying the investment.

References:
OnSpec Electronic, Inc

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